A pet owner in Washington learned a scary lesson about animal safety during hot summer months.
The unnamed owner was walking his dog, a golden retriever named Olaf, on an 85-degree day earlier this month. While the air temperature wasn't very high, the hiking trail was searing — in fact, the ground was so hot that it burned Olaf's paws down to the muscle.
"(The owner) looked back and saw bloody paw prints," said Jeannette Dutton, the practice manager of Medical Lake Veterinary Hospital in eastern Washington, where Olaf was treated. "He picked up the dog and looked, and the pads of his paws had been burned off. The raw muscle was showing."
Despite the severity of the injury, Dutton said that the "wonderful" owner had done nothing wrong, and that the dog had not shown any signs of distress during the mile-long walk.
"Olaf didn't act any differently," she said. "He loved being out for a walk."
Alison Mason, a veterinarian and medical director at Hope Animal Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, warned that this may not be an unusual response.
"Some dogs are more sensitive," Mason told TODAY. "One of my dogs, if it's too hot, will hop on his feet and make it more obvious, but a lot of dogs are so stoic and owners won't notice until they can actually see blood. Sometimes, some dogs are just so excited, they just want to play, and they'll almost not feel anything except for that excitement."
Dutton added that sometimes, animals will hide their pain in an effort to please their owners or to not appear weak, which is what she believed Olaf had done.
She warned pet owners to be careful when walking their dogs when it's too hot out, saying that anything above 75 degrees could be dangerous. They should also be mindful about the timing of walks — early mornings and late afternoons or evenings tend to be cooler, leading to less risk, while midafternoon hours tend to have higher temperatures.
The veterinary clinic also took to Facebook to share similar advice, telling owners that if a surface is too hot for their own hand, it's too hot for a dog's paws. Mason echoed that statement, cautioning owners to use their judgment when deciding when to walk their dogs.
Keeping pets cool in hot weather
Now that summer is officially here, pet owners need to be especially vigilant about keeping their animals cool (and, of course, never ever leaving one in a hot, parked car).
"Just like people, pets are sensitive to extreme temperatures, whether cold or hot," said Mason, who keeps a kiddie pool in her backyard for her dogs to splash in. She said that even if a walk or hike seems like it will be short, owners should bring extra water to keep dogs cool and hydrated.
Another tactic? Try dog sunblock, something that can be particularly important for dogs who are lighter-colored or thinner-furred in hot environments.
"A lot of people don't realize that (dogs) can burn their bellies if they sunbathe while lying on their backs, or just by spending too much time in the sun," Mason said.
And there's no one breed that's more or less susceptible to paw-related injuries, she added, although puppies may be at particular risk.
"Puppies are kept inside until they're fully (vaccinated), and owners are so excited to get their dogs outside that they don't realize that they don't have the proper worn-in callous," she explained. "We tend to see a lot more puppies with paw injuries."
Dutton said that if a midafternoon walk is unavoidable, owners should try to walk their dogs on cooler surfaces like grass instead of pavement or rocks. Dogs can also wear booties or socks that are specifically made to cover their feet and protect their pads (just don't leave them on for long as dogs "perspire" through their pads and mouths).
"The hot surface can burn pretty easily," she explained. "Sometimes they'll start picking up their feet when it's hot, but not always, so there may not be any way for an owner to know their pet is suffering."
Meanwhile, Olaf is healing well despite his severe injuries.
"He was immediately put on pain medications and antibiotics," said Dutton. In addition to medications, PetMD says it's necessary for dogs to avoid hot pavement while their pads heal, and that owners need to make sure their pets don't lick the injured areas, which will cause more severe damage over time.
While his recovery may take a while, Olaf seems well-tempered for it.
"He's healing incredibly fast, and he comes in twice a week for re-bandaging," Dutton said. "He's really sweet; he lets the nurses work on him without having to be sedated or anything. He's a really good boy."